Royal Exchange to cut 65% of workstaff as theatre faces fight for survival

Royal Exchange Theatre
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Manchester’s Royal Exchange Theatre is to cut two-thirds of its permanent workforce as its leaders battle “to ensure the survival” of the much-loved organisation.

The city centre theatre said it is “just not financially viable” to open with social distancing measures in place, even if the Government were to lift the current restrictions that are preventing theatres from letting in audiences.

It has about 90 full-time staff and 60 part-time staff, with an annual wage bill of £3.9m.

Bryony Shanahan, who joined the theatre as joint artistic director alongside Roy Alexander Weise last November, said: “It’s been heart-breaking to come to the realisation that this is the action we have no choice but to take.

“It is an awful time for us all, and it’s also hugely frustrating that government support simply hasn’t reached us in time, despite clear warning signals and cries for help.”

The theatre was founded in 1976 and lays claim to be the largest theatre in the round in the world, with a capacity of 700 people. It is heavily reliant on the income earned through ticket sales, as well as fundraising, food and drink and venue hire.

Ticket sales generated £4.5m in its last financial year, which ran to August 2019, as audiences enjoyed classics including Death of a Salesman and Hobson’s Choice alongside new plays Queen Margaret and The Mysteries as well as large-scale musical productions of The Producers and West Side Story.

Public subsidies have been reducing in recent years and last year totalled £2.6m, with £2.33m from the Arts Council and Greater Manchester Combined Authority contributing £219,000.

Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham said: “This is one of the finest theatres in the country. The work they deliver, both onstage in their outstanding productions and offstage in communities around Greater Manchester, is something of which we are all extremely proud.

“The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has done what it can to support the Royal Exchange, including paying six months of its grants upfront in April with the aim of providing support in the face of the immediate financial impacts of lockdown.

“The Covid-19 crisis has challenged all parts of the our economy but the arts have been particularly badly affected. There have been many warnings coming out of the cultural sector in recent weeks but we are yet to see any meaningful response from the Government.”